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Students In Uttar Dinjapur, Bengal Say They “Don’t Want To Discontinue Studies Every Year”

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Census 2011 was the 15th National Census of the country. With a literacy rate of 76.26%, as per the 2011 Census, West Bengal ranked 20th amongst the 36 states and union territories in India in terms of literacy rate. West Bengal’s lowest literacy rate is found in the district of Uttar Dinajpur.

It is one of the most backward districts educationally and economically. Muslim population in this district is much higher than the state average while the literacy level of the Muslims is much below. There is a large variation in literacy rate between Muslim and Non – Muslim in this district. So, the education of this religious community requires serious attention.

Source: Census 2011/ Various dimensions of literacy rate in West Bengal.

Uttar Dinajpur has nine Vidhan Sabha constituencies named Chopra, Islampur, Gaolpokher, Chakulia, Karandighi, Kaliayaganj, Raiganj, Itahar, and Hemtabad.

The bottom two blocks, Goapokher I and Goalpokher II (Chakulia), are not sufficiently endowed with educational Institutions and no colleges. The drop out rate at the secondary level is extremely high in villages. Only parents who can afford college education send their kids outside, and low-income families usually discontinue their studies in the absence of Government degree colleges in this area. If anybody wishes to continue, college degrees have to travel a long distance of around 50-60 km.

The 34 years long, left front Government also neglected this region. Chakulia’s constituency still has an MLA from the left front.

MLA Chakulia constituency talking to Chakulia times reporter Sajid Alam.

In an interview, Ali Imran Ramz said that, “When the left front was in power, our government had sanctioned a government degree college in this region, but we failed to choose the land for setting up the college. Unfortunately, in 2011, we lost the Assembly election. When Mamata Banerjee came into power, I talked to her on this concern, and she said that the Government has already sanctioned. It is really disappointing to find no mention of Chakulia and Goalpokher II”.

The MoS, Ghulam Rabbani, belongs to Gaolpokher I and he represents this constituency in the Assembly, he personally knows this region very well but never assured the people of this area that a college would be set up. Education is an essential and powerful weapon to change the society. The unemployment rate is high here, and 15 above ages prefer to go outside, work in a factory or other hazardous activities, and below 14 years of age works in hotels, dhabas, shops, tea shops, and so on.

Various government laws like the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986 and many other similar acts prohibit the employment of children below a certain age. The poor quality of education in rural schools will inevitably affect the employability of rural youth, and it could be seen. 

Mohammad Munir, a native of Chakulia, said, “I could not continue my studies because I’m not in a position to get enrol outside”. Many like him discontinued their studies after class 12th due to lack of a government degree college. The whole district has only a few colleges, and to attend college, students belonging to this region need at least 100-150 fare charges.

Many girls in this area have been forced to discontinue their education as they can not travel 100 km daily to attend the nearest college to this region, and parents feel insecure too to send them anywhere far for education. Many girls had to give up their dreams and sit back at home for this reason.

Leaders kept promising for many years. We demand that the government set up a college for higher studies in our area; if they do so, we will get an opportunity to continue our higher studies,” said a student.

Education in rural areas suffers from poor planning and defective policy implementation. While making plans, we need to be sensitive to area-specific problems. Some policies aim at balanced regional development. The criteria for financial aid to break structural backwardness needs to be chosen, and the Government should be more severe in identifying problems of districts and concerned areas. Some eyes are still dreaming, and I hope that MLAs and Government will help in the careers of those who are wishing to pursue their studies by setting up a government degree college in this region.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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